Fifty years ago, Rolex and the bathyscaphe Trieste made history when US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh, accompanied by Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, piloted the US Navy vessel to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the heart of the Mariana Trench, some 200 miles off the island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. Strapped to the outside of the Swiss-designed submersible was a Rolex watch.
A third-generation Rolex prototype of the Deep Sea Special was specifically engineered to withstand the tremendous pressure that would be encountered, approximately eight tons per square inch, at a depth of over 10,900 meters (35,000 feet) in the Challenger Deep.
When the Trieste and her intrepid crew of two surfaced over eight and a half hours later, they had completed the deepest dive ever undertaken by a vessel – manned or unmanned – and the Rolex Deep Sea Special was in perfect working condition. “Happy to announce that your watch works as well at 11,000 meters as it does on the surface”, Piccard wrote in a telegram addressed several days after the dive to the Rolex headquarters in Geneva.
Their successful voyage to the still deepest known place in the Earth’s oceans not only set a record that has never been broken, but also constituted an important milestone in the exploration and knowledge of the underwater world, an environment that was little known at the time despite its crucial role for man and his survival on earth.
Nearly seven miles below the surface, Walsh and Piccard used the light from their mercury vapor lamps to witness something never seen before: marine life at the very bottom of the ocean, previously believed to be unsustainable under such pressure and in the total absence of light. A discovery that astonished the global scientific community and contributed to increasing awareness of the need to better preserve our oceans.
In the years following the watch of choice for the US Naval School for Deep Sea Divers and for the US Navy’s SEA-LAB program which also provided robust developmental testing, in advance of the Rolex Sea-Dweller’s introduction in 1967.
From the creation of the Oyster in 1926 to the utmost test of its prowess in Mercedes Gleitze’s 1927 English Channel swim, on to the introduction of more and more sophisticated waterproof models since then to the present, Rolex has continuously sustained its commitment to being at the forefront of manufacturing watches that resist water and are ultimately compatible with water-related activities and underwater research.
Rolex milestones include: the Submariner created in 1953, originally waterproof to a depth of 100 meters and today to 300 meters (100 feet); the Deep Sea Special prototype of 1960 that withstood the pressure at Earth’s deepest point; the Sea-Dweller presented in 1967, waterproof to 610 meters (300 feet) and featuring a helium valve to protect it during deep dives; the 1978 Sea-Dweller 4000, waterproof to 1,220 meters (4,000 feet); the revolutionary Rolex Deepsea of 2008, waterproof to 3,900 meters (12,800 feet).
The world’s most noteworthy exploits
Rolex has always been proud to be associated with some of the world’s most noteworthy exploits: Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Everest, Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, Roger Federer becoming the champion of champions in tennis, the many victories of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, the legendary “Big Three” in the golf world, the triumphs of sailors in major races like the Rolex Sydney Hobart, to name but a few. The integrity of these champions and their achievements go hand in hand with the outstanding quality and precision of the Rolex watches they were wearing and the well-earned reputation of the company that stands behind these exceptional timepieces.